Skating through a break-up: how roller derby helped me

Roller derby blockers

Smacarena (blocker, far left) in action. Image by Ryan Davidson.

When a break-up knocks you down – how does it affect you? You’re likely to end up feeling hurt, because like in derby,  it might strike you with a full body check when you’re not prepared for it. Within the term ‘break-up’ I am referring to all types of break-ups, not just the romantic kind. It could be friendship breakups, family break-ups, work break-ups – the list goes on.

When these sorts of events happen, sticking to any strict schedule derby or otherwise can be difficult, especially if all you want to do is lay in bed bingeing on Netflix, listening to sad songs and eating your comfort food of choice.

If any of this is ringing true for you right now, I feel for you. As someone who has just been blind-sided by a relationship break-up in the recent past, derby was the last thing I wanted to do three times a week for the following two reasons;

1. I did not feel strong, emotionally or physically. I’d been knocked by something I relied on. With that falling apart, it knocked my confidence and as much as derby is a confidence builder, it also takes confidence to practice/play at times. Being able to think about your strengths and areas you need to work on can be hard when you’re in the mentality that you’re not good enough or ‘everything is shit so why bother’. You’ve had the fight kicked out of you, and that’s okay.

2. I’d have to tell people and explain why just looking at my water bottle was making me well up, which was just as bad as reliving the whole thing again. Also, it feels incredibly embarrassing even if getting it off your chest can help.

What I found really helped was allowing myself a period to feel what I was feeling, eating what I wanted, doing as little movement as possible and all the stereotypical things people do in break-ups – but I gave myself a time frame to do this in. I could have two weeks to work through this and then it would be time to pick myself up and start looking after myself and getting back to it. Once you’ve grieved for whatever type of break-up you are working through, here is how derby can be just what the doctor ordered to get you back to feeling yourself;

  1. You feel strong, powerful and have the confidence in your own abilities, emotionally and physically. One thing that I am constantly in awe of when reflecting over this sport and my life outside derby is how much it can impact onhow you see yourself and how good you feel off the track.
  2. The team mates you feel too embarrassed to tell or didn’t feel ready to tell will have your back. Whether you want to talk to someone about what you’re going through or just admitting that everything isn’t that peachy off the track, allows them to give you support as much as you need it, either as motivation to turn up to practice or as a big hug.
  3. When it comes to the break-ups of relationships, friendships and of a family I think all of us underestimate how much of a community and family your team or league can be, even if it’s just allowing you to practice big hits on them to let off some steam or to help you focus on developing areas of your skating.
  4. ENDORPHINS! Exercise helps lift your mood and can help you get out of a funk, even if it’s for a short time.
  5. Problem-solving. This may sound like a strange one to add to the list but it’s one thing to tell yourself; “If I can get around these blockers, or if I can stop this jammer, I can get through what’s happening to me.”
    A short term fix yes, but it allows you to solve some small problems and bolsters you with confidence to solve any bigger aches of the heart.
  6. Training routines can help! Throwing your frustrations and focus onto a new training routine outside of derby, or dedicating extra time to work on problem areas in your skating can help take your mind off your break-up. You can take negative energy that would have been used on repeating an argument in your mind or wanting to punch something and turn it into self-improvement on the track.
  7. It helps reclaim something for yourself. Roller derby is your ‘thing’ and no one can really change what it means to you, even if you’ve just had to divide your stuff up that you shared together. Having something that’s yours and that you invest time and energy into can be incredibly rewarding in terms of rebuilding yourself. And if roller derby is something that you shared with someone, redefining your identity as a solo person within the sport is a part of moving on.


A few points to keep in mind when working through a break-up in this sport from personal experience are;

  1. Don’t push yourself, if you are having one of ‘those’ days and you are not fit to be on track don’t go. And if you feel guilty, do some derby related training at home or the gym, even something as simple as stretching. If motivation for physical exercise is a problem, there is always hours of game footage to catch up on, on the WFTDA YouTube channel.
  2. Don’t bring your anger on track. From personal experience, this can end up with you being careless with your hits, risking your personal safety and could affect the safety of others. Understand that you can let frustration out through this sport but there is a fine line between giving a good hit and looking for a fight.

As hard as it can be to get back up after a break-up, derby can help, even if it doesn’t feel like the best thing at the time. One of the main elements of this sport is taking a big hit and getting back up from it, then carrying on. Even if that is the only thing you take from this post, just remember you will, one day, get back up and carry on because you are a badass derby player even if you don’t feel like it right now.

// Written by Smacarena //

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